The raging forest fire high up on Doi Samoeng in Chiang Mai has been brought under control, according to Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa.
The minister spoke of terrifying scenes where the blaze in various hotspots rose metres from the ground. The fire advanced through the forest throughout Monday night but was brought under control on Tuesday, he said.
The operations to contain the blaze were hampered by the rugged terrain which was difficult to access.
Mr Silpa-archa said firefighters resorted to building defensive buffers to stem the spread of the fire. When the blaze met the buffers, it surged, which explained why some of the fires had spun up in tall columns, according to the minister.
The minister offered his apologies to local residents for the distress caused by the blaze.
Jakkra Ditsayanan, chief of the Samoeng wildfire-fighting station, said the fire broke out in the mountains of Ban Sala in tambon Samoeng Tai.
A combined team of officials from the station, the Yiew Fai rapid-deployment firefighters and trained volunteers worked for hours to battle the blaze and dig buffer zones.
At the same time, the ministry has sent two helicopters to dump water on the fire which helped to slow its spread. A local source said the blaze was fierce and hard to contain.
Chiang Mai governor Charoenrit Sanguansap said the fire encompassed seven hotspots across the forest reserves in tambon Samoeng Nua and Samoeng Tai.
The wildfire is believed to have started on Sunday and rapidly intensified, feeding on thick layers of dead wood and leaves on the ground that had accumulated for three years, according to the governor.
The helicopters had made 50 water-dumping trips in an effort to control the fire. A provincial office also sent out an additional helicopter to join the mission. About 120 officials were assigned to assist the firefighters.
As the blaze was contained, the authorities conducted air quality checks which found the particulate matter (PM) 2.5 fine dust pollution was hovering at around 125 microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m3) in Samoeng district, which far exceeds the so-called “safe” level of 50 µg/m3.
The pollution was predicted to ease with the wind picking up and rain forecast for Tuesday afternoon.
Children, the elderly, pregnant women and those suffering from allergies or respiratory ailments were advised to take special care.